10 early storylines for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500

Will Dixon Ever Get A 2nd Indy 500 Win?

Scott Dixon has to wonder what he ever did to piss this place off. I mean legend states that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway picks its winners. For some reason, despite Scott Dixon becoming the all-time laps led leader in the 106-year history of this great event, second place on the all-time poles list (he has 5, Rick Mears has 6), he still sits here with just one lone Indy 500 victory (2008) in 20 tries.

Dixon keeps finding ways to lose here at that. He led 73 laps but finished runner-up to his Ganassi teammate of Dario Franchitti in 2009. He led 73 more laps in a 5th place run in 2011. In 2012, he led 53 laps but was runner-up again to Franchitti. He was on the pole and led 83 laps in 2015 but finished 4th. He won the pole in 2017 but had a frightening crash in Turn 1 that year and would come home 32nd. He led 111 laps in a runner-up effort in 2020, 7 laps from the pole in 2021 to where he was caught out by an ill timed first caution which saw his No. 9 Dallara-Honda having to do an emergency pit stop under a closed pit road and then stall as a result. He fell a lap down and would finish 17th.

Last year, he was 2nd in literally all but 1 practice session, qualified on the pole with a record setting pole lap and led 95 circuits before speeding on pit road for his final pit stop. That relegated him to 21st in the end.

Can Dixon finally pick up a second Indy 500 win?

Penske Slump

Roger Penske bought the Speedway in late 2019 and turned the ultimate flex up to a whole new level. See, his parking space is located just outside of the media center in the shadows of the pagoda. Everyone else’s space is known through initials. Mark Miles’ is MM. Doug Boles’ is DB. Penske’s? It’s 18. Not RP. The 18 stands for Indy 500 victories.

At the time, he had won two straight Indy 500’s. A third seemed likely in the very near future. But, as we sit here today, he’s 0-for-3 and surprisingly hasn’t even been close.

Heading into last year’s Month of May, Team Penske was off to an undefeated start to the 2022 season and the team everyone was talking about them to win last year’s Indy 500. They had won each of the 1st 3 races, started on the front row in 4 of the 5 and have taken 6 of the 15 podiums spots available.

They were once again, nowhere to really be found in Indy.

That included another winless Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

They failed to lead a single lap a year ago here and now have led a grand total of 19 over the last 3 years (600 laps). They finished 13th (Josef Newgarden), 15th (Will Power) and 29th (Scott McLaughlin).

Penske qualified 13-22-25-28 in 2020, finished 5-11-14-22. They’d lead a grand total of 16 laps that day. A year later, they’d qualify 17-21-26-32 and finish 3-12-20-30 with just 3 laps led all day.

Can they improve this time around?

Josef Newgarden has won everything but this race. The 26-race winner in INDYCAR competition is 0-for-11 in this race with just five total Top-10 finishes in it. 3 of those 5 top 10 results were in the top 5 however, but Newgarden has yet to drink the milk here.

Will Power is one that has won the race (2018) but one main thing he’s after is the pole. No one has as many poles (68) in INDYCAR history than Power. In saying that, he’s never won an Indy 500 pole before. At one point, he made the Fast 9 in 11 straight years here, including four front row starting spots (2010, 2014, 2015, 2018), but none of those resulted in a pole. He’s finished 14th or worse in 4 of the last 6 Indy 500 starts.

Scott McLaughlin is the relative newbie. He’s only 0-for-2 here but is eyeing his first top 10 on the 2.5-mile oval.

Helio Castroneves’ Drive For 5

This is the obvious one, right? In 106 past years of the Indianapolis 500, no one has ever won this race more than 4 times. Prior to 2021, only 3 drivers had crossed the famed yard of bricks first on 4 occasions. Then Helio Castroneves stamped his name into the record book by becoming the fourth one to do so. Can he now be the first to win No. 5?

He’s had a quiet month last year. Castroneves was 22nd on the opening day speed chart. He was 22nd again on Day 3 (Wednesday was washed out). On Monday of race week, he was 13th. He qualified 27th and finished seventh.

AJ Foyt got his fourth win in his 20th start. He had 35 total Indy 500 starts (most ever) but could win in a rear engine, front engine, bricks or pavement. Hell, the guy could win on any surface as he holds the record for most championships (7) and most wins (67). He finished runner-up in the race in 1976 and again in 1979. No one has completed as many miles (12,272.50) as Foyt either. 

Al Unser Sr. also has four wins. He did so in his 22nd start as he’s made 27 overall Indy starts. He also had three runner-ups (1967, 1972 and 1983). He finished third four times (1977, 1984, 1988 and 1992) too. On top of that, Unser has led the most laps ever (644) and second most miles (10,890). Unser, had 39 career open wheel wins too (5th most) to go along with 31 runner-ups (6th), 98 podiums (fifth) and 140 top fives (sixth).

Rick Mears has four wins and he got his fourth in his only his 14th start. In fact, in just 15 Indy 500 starts, Mears had nine top fives including a runner-up (1982) and two third place runs (1983 and 1986). Mears had six Indy 500 poles (most ever) but ranks 13th in career Indy Car wins, 13th in runner-ups (22), 15th in podiums (74) and 12th in top fives (111).

Castroneves has four wins in 22 starts. The Brazilian has the third most miles completed too. He’s also had three runners-up and all three rank among the closest finishes in the 106-year history too. Gil de Ferran stopped his back-to-back reign in 2001 and 2002 with a win by just .2990-seconds over him in ’03. In 2014, Ryan Hunter-Reay stopped him by only .0600-seconds which still ranks as the second closest Indy 500 finish ever. Takuma Sato bested him by .2011-seconds in 2017 for the sixth closest result.

Combine those results, Castroneves is .5601-seconds from being a seven-time winner. So, can he get to five at least?

Both Bobby Unser and Al Unser won in 1981 and 1987 respectively as 47-year-olds. Emerson Fittipaldi won in 1993 at the age of 46. Gordon Johncock won in 1982 at the rightful age of 45.

Foyt made 15 attempts after notching his fourth Indy 500 victory in 1977 to score his fifth win. He’d never do so with only scoring two top fives after including a runner-up finish in 1979.

Unser was the next to join the four win club in 1987. He’d try five more times to earn a fifth ‘500 triumph with finishes of 3rd, 24th, 13th, 3rd and 12th respectively.

Mears joined in 1991. A 26th place finish in 1992’s race was his final shot.

Scott Dixon has 5 Indy poles. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Track Record?

 Just when you thought you’ve seen it all. For a race that’s been around for over a century, you’d think there’s not many records left to be broken. However, Scott Dixon found another one to shatter on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May.

The Ice Man went quickest in the opening Round of the Fast 12 and that earned him the distinction of being the final qualifier of the Fast 6. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver went 234.046 mph which becomes the fastest pole speed in the 106 year history of the event. The prior pole record was set by Scott Brayton (233.718 mph) back in 1996.

Dixon’s also the second fastest qualifying four-lap average ever too with Arie Luyendyk’s speed of 236.986 mph still be tops. The reason Luyendyk’s speed wasn’t the fastest pole speed is because Luyendyk’s time in ’96 wasn’t for the pole. He was a second day qualifier.

We haven’t seen speeds like those in nearly 3 decades of action. The last time was 1996 but for the 2022 edition, we had the fastest field in field history. Does 2023 go even faster?

There’s a good chance of that but it all depends on the conditions. Last year was much cooler temperatures on the final day of Time Trials. That played a big role in this too.

We have had 5 pole winners in the last 7 years eclipse the 230 mph barrier on their four-lap average. Overall, we’ve seen 11 of the 106 prior years with the pole speed being over 230 mph.

2022 – Scott Dixon 234.046 mph

1996 – Tony Stewart 233.100 mph

1992 – Roberto Guerrero 232.482 mph

2017 – Scott Dixon 232.164 mph

2003 – Helio Castroneves 231.725 mph

2021 – Scott Dixon 231.685 mph

1995 – Scott Brayton 231.604 mph

2002 – Bruno Junqueria 231.342 mph

2020 – Marco Andretti 231.068 mph

2014 – Ed Carpenter 231.067 mph

2016 – James Hinchcliffe 230.760 mph

In 2022, it took a four-lap average of 231.708 mph to get into the Fast 12. A year prior, Pato O’Ward was 12th at 230.864 mph on his four-lap average. 13? 230.846 mph (Pietro Fittipaldi). The entire top 21 qualifiers eclipsed the 230 mph barrier. Last year was the top 26.l

In 2020, it was a 230.539 mph to get into the top 12. What’s it going to take this year?

Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato joins Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2023 Indy 500. Sato could enter rare air with an Indy 500 win in May. He’s drank the milk twice after an Indy 500 triumph. He’s actively searching for a 3rd opportunity at doing so.

10 drivers have won this race 3 or more times with only 4 of the 10 having won this prestigious event a record setting four times. Sato can become the 11th in May.

What’s even more rare about this is, if he win, this would mark the third team he’s won Indy with. Only three drivers (Al Unser, Bobby Unser and AJ Foyt) have accomplished that feat. 2 of the 3 are in the 4-win club.

Sato inherits arguably the top Indy team over the last few years.

In 2021, they had 4 of the top 9 starters including 2 more on the front row with leading 42 of 200 laps and having 3 finishers in the top 11 including a runner-up.

In 2020, they led 119 of 200 laps and had the 2nd place finisher.

That’s 324 of 600 (54%) of the overall laps led in the Aeroscreen era and now you hand them Sato…

Ganassi has won 5 Indy 500’s in their history.

No More Double Points

For the first time since the 2013 season, the Indianapolis 500 will pay the same amount of points as the rest of the races on the schedule. The NTT INDYCAR Series issued a release on Thursday night confirming the news.

The series first adopted the move to a double points race for 2014. It was initially slated for the three 500-mile races run that season (Indianapolis, Pocono, Fontana). A year later, that was dropped in favor of double points for just the Indy 500 as well as the season finale.

That lasted through 2019. With a change in stewardship between the Hulman George Family to Roger Penske, the double points model was scrapped for the season finale but left alone for Indy.

That drew the ire of drivers and teams. Most favored a move away from double points for any race all together. Now, the move was finally made.

I get both sides of the coin here in a reason for it and against it. The race is the biggest of the season and should reward more points and money. Why not have this race stand out above the rest? It’s not just another race on the schedule. It’s bigger than that.

So, it should award double points.

Some drivers say, no. Will Power last year that he was strongly against it saying that the race should be double purse instead of double points. He says the intensity of winning this race wouldn’t matter if you gave 0 points.

However, I can put that quarter and rest it on my thumb and flick it over to the other side and say that it doesn’t merit double points too. Does the Daytona 500 or Monaco Grand Prix award more points than the other races on the NASCAR and F1 schedules respectively? Does the Super Bowl double points scored for touchdowns and field goals?

The problem with double points for Indy is two-fold. One-offs can steal some valuable points from full time entries. Also, it can hide the fact that someone had a bad season but got a top three or four at Indy can nullify some bad results later and keep them in the title race longer. It works reverse to someone who maybe had a heck of a season but didn’t get a top 10 or dare I say top 15 at Indy and cost them valuable points to a championship rival that did.

Indy essentially counts for two races and if you have a bad result, it can make or break your championship hopes down the road. Is that fair?

That’s why I see this on both sides and can see why it’s a debate. For fans, it absolutely adds to the intensity and pressure. That’s a win. For teams though, this race they already want to win at the most, do they need added pressure?

The other part is that we’ve not seen a driver win the championship and the Indy 500 in the same season since 2010. It’s only happened 5 times since the 1996 split at that. So, while winning the Indy 500 with double points now is great, it doesn’t mean a guaranteed title either. No driver has won Indy with double points and won the title in the same year.

“I think it’s good we’ve dropped the double points in the finale,” Newgarden said last year. “I was never a fan of that, and I’m still not quite a fan of the double points at Indy. But like I said, we know the rules, we know the landscape going in, so I don’t think we can fall back on that. It would be an endless discussion of saying if this went different or that went different, I could go down the road and cite a lot of examples, but we always end up where we are, and unfortunately we’re a little bit short this year.”

Ed Carpenter leads his teammate Rinus VeeKay around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for practice. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Will ECR Ever Get That Elusive Indy 500 Victory

ECR always seems to be in this role but they’ve also not capitalized either. They had 2 of the top 4 starters in last year’s race for an event that’s now seen the winner come from the top 8 in each of the last 6 years. For a team with at least 1 driver in the final round qualifying shootout for 10 straight years now, you’d think that they’d have found a win in that span. Instead, as they showed last year they can’t fully get there.

They seem close however which makes me wonder if this is the year.

Ed Carpenter has 7 top 4 starting spots in the last 10 years and 3 top 6 finishes in his last 5 Indy 500 tries.

Conor Daly led the most laps in 2021 and was sixth a year ago after leading 7 more laps.

Rinus VeeKay has two straight front row starting spots and finished 8th in 2021.

Marcus Ericsson led Pato O’Ward across the Yard of Bricks on Lap 199 for last year’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

McLaren Racing

The top team to rival Chip Ganassi Racing this year may very well be Arrow McLaren. They have secured the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th placed drivers from last year’s race and had all 3 of their full-time drivers qualify in the top 5 at Texas.

Tony Kanaan, the 2013 winner, a runner-up in 2004 and three different third place finishes in 21 appearances joins the Indy only entry. He was third with Chip Ganassi Racing last year. Fifth place finisher of a year ago, Alexander Rossi, is the other newcomer. He won as a rookie in 2016 but felt like the 2017 race was the one that got away. He started 3rd but finished 7th that day. In 2018, he finished 4th. A year after that was his intense end of race battle with Simon Pagenaud to where he came home runner-up. In 2020, he had a top 3 car before a pit stop penalty late which put him to the back and a crash ensued while pushing hard to get back to the front. For 2021, he was caught out by the 1st caution/pit sequence. Last year, he didn’t qualify well (20th) but charged up to finish 5th for his 5th top 7 in 7 tries here. Take 2020 and 2021 and put him where he should have finished and he’d have a top 7 every year.

Both former winners are hoping to bring that little extra to McLaren to get them over the top.

Pato O’Ward, who drives the No. 5 car, finished second in the 2022 race, and has never finished worse than sixth in three Indy 500 tries. He has made 16 total oval starts with two wins, five runner-up finishes and 12 top four results including 11 top four’s in his last 12 tries.

Felix Rosenqvist is in the 6 car and was fourth a year ago.

This is a team to watch.

However, can they break into the “Big 3?”

Combined, Ganassi, Penske and Andretti have won 14 of the last 18 Indy 500’s and 18 of the last 23 (since 2000). RLL is the outlier who took two of the top three spots in 2020 and have won 2 of the 5 that the “Big 3” didn’t since 2000.

Plus, the last non-Penske Chevrolet driver to win at Indy was Al Unser Jr. with Galles in 1992.

We have had a new, first time winner for the Indy 500 in seven of the last nine years. Also, since 2011, we’ve had a different winner each year with the exception of Takuma Sato (2017, 2020) here too. Going back to 2003, only Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon, Helio Castroneves and Sato have won this race multiple times in that time frame.

Vast Array Of Experience vs. Inexperience

There’s 4 rookies on the entry-list with Agustin Canapino, Benjamin Pedersen, Sting Ray Robb and RC Enerson. There’s also 9 former winners including Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2009, 2021), Marcus Ericsson (2022), Takuma Sato (2017, 2020), Simon Pagenaud (2019), Will Power (2018), Alexander Rossi (2016), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Tony Kanaan (2013) and Scott Dixon (2008) on the list.

We’ve seen just 10 total rookies win in 165 past years, 3 since 1967 at that. The last came in 2016 on a fluke fuel call. Also since 1967, just 3 drivers scored their 1st career INDYCAR win in the Indy 500. It was Arie Luyendyk (1990), Buddy Lazier (1996) and Rossi (2016).

This also has a wide range of experience vs. inexperience among this current field too. You have 6 drivers (Kyle Kirkwood, Romain Grosjean, Devlin DeFrancesco, David Malukas, Callum Ilott, Christian Lundgaard) attempting to make their 2nd ‘500 and two drivers (Scott McLaughlin and Katherine Legge) trying to make their third. Combine that with the 3 rookies and 12 of the 34 drivers (35%) are making their 1st, 2nd or 3rd attempts.

You also have two drivers (Alex Palou, Rinus VeeKay) making their fourth attempt and six trying for their fifth (Santino Ferrucci, Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist, Ericsson and Stefan Wilson).

Combined, that’s 20 of 34 (58%) of the current field with 4 or fewer Indy 500 starts at the moment.

Then you have some big veterans. This is Jack Harvey’s 7th attempt, Alexander Rossi’s 8th. Everyone else has double digits.

Conor Daly (10th attempt), Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden’s 12th attempt, Takuma Sato and Hunter-Reay’s 14th, Graham Rahal’ and Will Power’s 16th, Marco Andretti’s 18th, Ed Carpenter’s 20th, Scott Dixon’s 21st, Tony Kanaan’s 22nd and Helio Castroneves’ 23rd.

That’s a lot of experience with the youthful drivers.

JHR will roll out a combined 1-year experience between their 2 drivers. Foyt has 4 total years, all by Ferrucci and a rookie in Pedersen.

Andretti has 17 past Indy 500’s for Marco Andretti but 7 combined between the other 4 (Herta 4, Kirkwood, Grosjean, DeFrancesco 1). Rahal is in a similar situation. Graham Rahal has 15 Indy 500’s but Jack Harvey has 6, Katherine Legge 2 and Christian Lundgaard with 1.

Penske has some experience with just 2 Indy 500’s from McLaughlin but 12 from Newgarden and 16 from Power.

Ganassi has a good mix with 20 Indy 500’s from Dixon, 14 from Sato, 5 from Ericsson and 4 from Palou.

McLaren is similar with 21 starts out of Kanaan, 8 out of Rossi and 5 each out of O’Ward and Rosenqvist.

ECR has Carpenter approaching 20 starts, Daly approaching 10 and VeeKay approaching 4.

MSR may be the most experienced of all with 22 years from Castroneves and 11 out of Pagenaud.

Bumping Is Back

For the fourth time in the last six years, we’ll have bumping to make the Indy 500 field. 34 cars will show up for 33 spots. 17 Chevy’s vs. 17 Honda’s. This is a welcomed addition because 2 of the last 3 years we’ve not had any bumping to make the show.

This is however, just the sixth time since 2012 (the debut of the DW12) that we’ve had any kind of bumping here. 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2020 and 2022 didn’t feature any bumping at all.

2013 and 2015 saw 34 cars for 33 spots. 2018 and 2018 had 35 and 36 cars respectively. 2021 had 35 cars for 33 spots. Now, we’re back to 34. At least there’s some drama for qualifying weekend though.

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